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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Expat politicians find their feet in Rome
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News

A month after the votes were cast in Italy's parliamentary election, three of the newly elected expatriate politicans reflect on their experiences so far.

Senator Claudio Micheloni
Claudio Micheloni sees the election of expats as a historic moment

This poll was the first in which Italian citizens living overseas had the right to vote for representatives standing in and for their area.

And the closeness of the vote meant the party allegiances of the 12 MPs and six senators from the four "overseas constituencies" - Europe, North and Central America, Latin America and Africa-Asia-Oceania - helped decide the final result.

Claudio Micheloni was one of four expatriate senators elected for Romano Prodi's winning centre-left coalition.

The 54-year-old civil engineer, whose family moved to Switzerland from the Italian province of Teramo in 1960, now represents the interests of Italians living across some 45 countries in Europe.

On a personal level, he has found the first days of his five-year-term "very moving".

OVERSEAS CONSTITUENCIES
Split into Europe, North and Central America, Latin America and Africa-Asia-Oceania
Elect 12 of the 630 MPs in the Italian lower house
Elect six of Italy's 315 senators
Set up under 2001 law allowing Italians to vote abroad for politicians standing in and for their overseas area
More than 3m expatriate Italians registered to vote

"It's a historic moment for Italians living abroad," he said.

On a political level, he hopes the election of senators from different political traditions will bring a new dimension to Italy's "very complicated, very ideological" political system.

Bridging the rupture between Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right and the centre-left so that an effective government can be formed next week is essential, he said.

And while the centre-right is unhappy that it has one overseas senator to the four elected for Prodi's coalition, he believes that overall they are respected by the other senators and have been given a warm welcome.

Sen Micheloni anticipates spending three or four days a week in Rome and the rest in his large constituency.

'Latin passion'

Salvatore Ferrigno was elected for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party to represent North and Central America in the lower house.

MP Salvatore Ferrigno
Salvatore Ferrigno's roots are in Sicily, where his family still lives

Stretching from Panama in the south to Alaska in the north, the region is home to an estimated 350,000 Italian citizens - and many more people of Italian descent.

Mr Ferrigno said his move from Philadelphia to Rome had felt more like a homecoming than a shock to the system.

He was 23 when he left Italy for the US and his parents still live in Sicily, where he intends to base himself with his wife and eight-year-old daughter.

The 46-year-old insurance agent anticipates spending three-quarters of his time in Italy and a quarter in his constituency - with a lot of hours spent on planes in between.

OVERSEAS VOTERS' PRIORITIES
Changes to make it easier for expat Italians to regain lost Italian citizenship. Before 1992 law change, expat Italians were not allowed dual citizenship
Restructuring of consular offices abroad to offer improved services
Better health and social care for elderly Italians abroad
More resources to teach Italian language and culture to children of Italian descent abroad
Mr Ferrigno believes the presence of the expatriate politicians will enrich the political culture in Rome because each will bring their experience of other systems abroad.

He has already been impressed by the fieriness and "Latin passion" with which the Italians approach politics, compared with their US counterparts.

But as negotiations continue before a new government forms, Mr Ferrigno said it would be a mistake if Mr Prodi's centre-left coalition tried to grab all the power for itself.

"I think they will have to realise in the end we have to work for the national security of the country. By dividing the country, nobody wins."

Family business

Senator Renato Turano, who supports Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition, left his family-run bakery business in Chicago a fortnight ago to take up his seat.

Senator Renato Turano
Bakery owner Renato Turano left Italy for the US aged 15

Proceedings have been hectic ever since, with negotiations over the election of the new president, Giorgio Napolitano, and the formation of Mr Prodi's government.

"As a person that has not been in politics and as a person that comes from abroad I find it very intriguing," said Sen Turano.

The 63-year-old intends to seek a balance between visiting his constituency and spending time in Rome - with his presence in the Senate made all the more important by the Prodi coalition's slim majority.

"They are asking us to try to be over here as much as possible," he said.

We are a very close family and I aim to keep it that way
Senator Renato Turano
"I will try to be here for every important vote but I also have to find the time to spend in my territory."

The US has been home to Sen Turano since he left Italy's Calabria region aged 15. Over the past five decades he has helped build a small family bakery into an enterprise employing 650 workers.

Sen Turano said his wife intended to travel with him but the rest of the family would stay in the US - with the business left in the safekeeping of his brothers and children.

"We are a very close family and I aim to keep it that way," he said.

"I have nine grandchildren and that's probably the hardest thing because before I went to work in the morning I used to pass by their house and talk to them."


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